“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Ruth (age 68), reflecting on her life at age 48, interviewed by daughter Beth Moschetto.
Where did you live?
Your dad had just accepted a job across the country in Freemont, California. It was a difficult move for both of us since we had lived all our lives in Arlington, Virginia. Although John was looking forward to working on and developing some new software products, I was more than apprehensive at the thought of leaving the familiar life I had built over the 20 years we’d been married.
What was a typical day like?
Before moving west, I spent my days working as a teacher’s aid at the elementary school, and coordinating Meals on Wheels for elderly shut-ins. I spent time with my two married children who lived nearby, and my youngest daughter who was finishing college just a few hours away. One daughter had relocated to California.
When we moved west, I took a job as an administrative assistant for six engineers for something to do. I didn’t know anyone and was pretty lonely. But the pay was good and the people were very nice. While at work one day, the earthquake hit at two minutes before 5 in the afternoon. A very frightening experience to say the least! Dad had gone on a business trip back east so he missed it. Lucky him!
After work and on the weekends I took sailing lessons, and lessons to improve my swimming. I worked out at the local gym, and we did lots of exploring. Your sister was living in San Francisco by then, so we did see her a bit. We would go up to the city or she would come down to our place, which was 30 miles south.
After a year and a half we moved back to Virginia. Dad worked for the California company from home for a bit. I did not work then, but I decided to go back to school and began taking classes at the community college. Then he got the job offer in Colorado and we moved out there. That was tough because by then we had grandchildren.
I insisted we rent out the house in Virginia both times we moved west. After 15 years in Colorado, we retired in Virginia.
What did you worry about most?
I worried about your sister who was still in college, and about your sister living alone in San Francisco. I worried about you and your brother who were newly married and had babies on the way. I guess I have always worried that you all would be happy and safe.
What did you think the future held for you?
I didn’t think too much about the future. I did very strongly want a career and to feel “equal” and to have a good family. I worked to help out with the finances but I did want something for myself. The jobs I took I did not care about. It was just work. I went where Dad had a job. Like many women, I wanted to help give our family a better life than what we had. I think most women of my generation worked if we could, just not necessarily at what we wanted. I wanted you girls to have careers, to be able to support yourselves, and I guess to have a little of “it all.”
How do you look back on that age now?
Answering these questions, I am forced to put into words what I felt at that time; it’s interesting to remember. I do know that, for what ever it’s worth, that our family was my career. It was what I cared most about then and now.
As I look back on that age now, it was an opportunity to grow, as all things can be—if you can relax and look at them in the moment. I was not always able to take advantage of that. I suppose I needed to be with all of you more than you all needed us.
I think becoming a grandmother, for me, was just the next phase of life. We were happy and excited for you kids, and for ourselves. We loved being grandparents from the start. I felt that we missed out not being here for more of your kid’s growing up years. [The first three grandkids are now in college, two are in high school, and there are five girls who are still in elementary school or younger.]
I feel grateful for our family and the life I’ve had, both the good and not so good times. Now, I want to give back for the good I have been given.
My mom is now teaching English to adult students at the community center in town where she raised her family. She continues to enjoy visits with her kids and grandkids, whether they live on the east or west coast. Her college-aged granddaughters think “she’s cool because she works out at the gym and knows all the best restaurants in town.”
When my mom was my age, 48, she had already navigated the married with children stage. In a just 20 years they pushed Dad through college and into the work force, bought a house, raised four children and sent them all to college, financed two weddings, and were grandparents! Her hard work and dedication have afforded me the choices and opportunities she wanted me to have—college, travel, career—all before marriage. I was able to resume my career as a teacher when my children were in high school. Reentering the workplace is never seamless, and I think that my mother and I have shared the feelings of insecurity that come from changing the focus of your life. I am grateful for her example. My mother has demonstrated great faith and trust throughout her life. Her willingness to take life as it comes, and her positive and energetic attitude are her best qualities.